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The Best Problem Solvers Don’t Always Make the Best People Pleasers

The idea that problem solving and people pleasing are mutually exclusive skills is yet another example of conventional wisdom overriding data. It should never be a question of one or the other. For example, while bedside manner is important, you wouldn’t want a pleasant but incompetent doctor managing your care. Likewise, you should make sure your customer service agents are intelligently resolving issues while simultaneously maintaining a friendly rapport.

It’s this misconception that we summarize as Customer Satisfaction Myth #3: The best problem solvers aren’t always the best people pleasers. The truth is, customer satisfaction research has shown that the most satisfied customers are ones whose problems have been solved — think back to the service recovery paradox we covered in Myth #1. Above all else, you should make sure your customers are getting what they’ve called you for.

First Call Resolution Isn’t the Whole Picture

First call resolution rates (FCR) are frequently used as a metric for customer satisfaction, but overreliance on these numbers leads to unhappy customers. A big part of this is the fact that FCR is difficult to accurately measure. This is because FCR assumes that a customer’s issue was resolved if they don’t call back within a certain period of time.

However, we’ve found that follow-up customer satisfaction (CSAT) surveys paint a different picture: As many as 15 percent of FCR customer problems remained unresolved. What’s worse is these CSAT surveys can add to frustration while customers wonder why your company assumed their problems were solved at all.

Additionally, while problem solving should take priority, resolution does not guarantee customer satisfaction. While 90 percent of the happiest customers may experience FCR, FCR applies to less than 70 percent of happy customers in the next bracket. If your employee evaluations emphasize FCR, you’re disregarding a big part of your satisfied customer base.

Fixing FCR–CSAT Discrepancies

If you see a mismatch between FCR and CSAT, your process needs some work. For a real-world example, we recently worked with a company that was experiencing high FCR and low CSAT. The problem was traced to the fact that agents were keeping customers on the line for lengthy amounts of time, going through every possible solution, including completely unrelated ones. This method frustrated customers badly enough that they never called back, even when their issue went unaddressed. The advice we gave that successfully turned their CSATs around was this:

  • Evaluate agents on other qualities in addition to FCR. Too much of a focus on FCR makes for unhappy customers.
  • Implement better triage strategies. A customer’s issue should be identified and directed to the appropriate channel within the first 30 seconds of a call.
  • Shorten calls by giving customers more self-help options. Offer to send an email with detailed instructions instead of phone-guided walkthroughs.

Additionally, emphasize the importance of both hard and soft skills; sacrificing one for the other doesn’t cut it. Add a dash of diplomacy and you’re well on your way to stellar CSATs.

Hard Skills

The best customer service agents are competent. They have the knowledge and tools needed to efficiently solve customers’ problems. More importantly, when a customer has an issue that’s outside their domain, they know where to direct the call.

Soft Skills

An agent should be able to relate to a customer and demonstrate empathy for their problem. Certain strategies, such as mirroring communication styles and practicing active listening, go a long way towards customer satisfaction. Such soft skills can be developed through role-playing exercises and by observing examples of best practice interactions.


Diplomacy is a specific type of soft skill that needs its own special attention. A diplomatic agent can say “no” when a customer asks for something they can’t deliver or otherwise politely craft the right responses to difficult questions. Learning how to perform this task without creating offense or disappointment is key.

Recruiting, training, and coaching customer service agents with top notch problem solving and interpersonal skills is tricky. But, here at SYKES, we’ve spent the last three decades helping businesses around the world do just that. If your company is looking to improve customer satisfaction, consider calling our offices today to find out more.